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Leinster Rugby vs Bath Rugby
European Champions Cup Pool 5
RDS Showground, Dublin
Saturday, 16th January 2016, 17:30

Television: Live - Sky Sports, Highlights TG4

After three league wins over the Christmas/New Year period, Leinster now have to complete their European fixtures. In competitive terms their two remaining games are meaningless as Leinster can't progress to the quarter-finals and they won't affect how Leinster are ranked in next year's tournament. However in more intangible terms, the games will still have meaning for Leinster and their players.

First off, it's been a horrible European campaign, none more so than when they were hammered 33-6 at the RDS by Wasps in the opening game. That was easily Leinster's worst home performance in the professional era and the players were rightly embarrassed afterwards. They will seek a win tomorrow as a small measure of atonement and also to lay down a marker for next season that Leinster can still compete with top quality English teams.

Secondly the players will want to continue their recent good form to impress the Irish management with the Six Nations Championship starting in only three weeks time. In particular the young players who've stood out this season will want to show they can excel at European level as well as they can in the Pro12. Though the games may be dead rubbers for Leinster, both the English teams will be going all out for a win and this will provide a stern test for players with international aspirations.

Finally there's a chance that Leinster winning either tomorrow or next week could aid Ulster's chances of securing a spot in the knock-out stages. With Leinster and Munster's chances gone, it would be depressing indeed to have no Irish province in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1998. So, while they'll primarily play to win for their own pride, if they can help their northern brothers out at the expense of an English or French club, then that's an extra little piece of motivation too.

In Bath Leinster take on a team that are in the last-chance saloon. They need a win or else their qualification chances are gone. They looked in great shape after they beat Leinster in the Rec and then won away to Wasps in their first two matches. But then Wasps took a considerable measure of revenge by hammering them 36-10 back at the Rec and then last week they lost narrowly to Toulon in their re-arranged game. So to have any chance they'll need to win tomorrow and hope other results go their way.

Bath beat Leinster 19-16 back in November in a game that Bath dominated, but which Leinster still could have snatched at the death. Ironically for a team that's so lauded for it's attractive rugby, their win that day was based on their destruction of Leinster's scrum. The props that started that day Nick Auterac and Henry Thomas are both on the bench tomorrow. Auterac is coming back from an injury so Max Lahiff continues to start and England international David Wilson has recovered from injury to reclaim his starting spot at tighthead in place of Thomas.

Bath coach Mike Ford has named an unchanged team from the one that pushed Toulon so close last weekend. Skipper Stuart Hooper, hooker Rob Webber and Springbok Francois Louw are key men in the pack and they have plenty of weapons in their backline including Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Kyle Eastmond and George Ford.

Leo Cullen has decided to make the best of a bad situation with his selection opting to give several young players their first European starts. Garry Ringrose was expected to play but five other players, Luke McGrath, Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Tadhg Furlong and Ross Molony, also make their first European starts. Cullen has made eight changes to the team that beat the Ospreys last week. Zane Kirchner comes in at full back and Ben Te'o moves to inside centre to accommodate Ringrose. Ian Madigan starts at ten with Johnny Sexton being named on the bench.

In the pack Mike McCarthy lends his considerable experience to the young front five of Dooley, Tracy, Furlong and Molony. Jordi Murphy and Josh van der Flier come in to join Rhys Ruddock in the back row. As well as Sexton, there's lots of experience on the bench in Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Sean O'Brien and Eoin Reddan. It will be a considerable test, especially for the young front five but these guys are the future and they deserve their shot and it's far better to give promising players a chance rather than just putting in squad guys.

It's hard to know how the game will go but if Leinster are in the mix after fifty minutes, the cavalry on the bench might just swing it for a home win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Bath Rugby
Teams Zane Kirchner
15 Anthony Watson
Isa Nacewa (C)
14 Semesa Rokoduguni
Garry Ringrose 13 Jonathan Joseph
Ben Te'o 12 Kyle Eastmond
Dave Kearney 11 Matt Banahan
Ian Madigan
10 George Ford
Luke McGrath 9 Chris Cook

Peter Dooley 1 Max Lahiff
James Tracy 2 Rob Webber
Tadhg Furlong
3 David Wilson
Ross Molony
4 Stuart Hooper (C)
Mike McCarthy
5 Dominic Day
Rhys Ruddock
6 Matt Garvey
Josh van der Flier
7 Francois Louw
Jordi Murphy 8 Leroy Houston

Replacements Sean Cronin
16 Ross Batty
Jack McGrath
17 Nick Auterac
Marty Moore
18 Henry Thomas
Tom Denton
19 Charlie Ewels
Sean O'Brien 20
David Denton
Eoin Reddan21 Jonathan Evans
Johnny Sexton
22 Rhys Priestland
Noel Reid
23 Tom Homer

Not Considered
due to Injury
Jack Conan,
Edward Byrne,
Mick Kearney,
Hayden Triggs,
Jamie Heaslip,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Cian Healy

Dave Attwood,
Niko Matawalu
Officials Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France),
Assistant Referees: Maxime Chalon, Jean-Luc Rebollal (both France),
Citing Commissioner: Alberto Recaldini (Italy),
TMO: Eric Gonthier (France)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-01-15